For five years, this Michael Ritchie-directed version of the off-Broadway musical languished in a can in Hollywood until, last year, Francis Ford Coppola edited twenty minutes out of the movie. It opened briefly last fall, but try to remember... My Phoenix colleague Peg Aloi's astute positive review couldn't keep it at the Kendall. I didn't see it, nobody saw it, until now, on video.
Surprise! I can now proclaim the most underrated picture of 2000. What's been wrong with this movie all these years is that the treatment is so original, so artsy, so daring for Hollywood. Instead of the minimalist set (a Mute, two sticks, a box), Ritchie set his movie in a dream 1920s on a stark midwest plain, where a wonderful and weird carnival and side show saunter into view. It's a walking vision from Ray Bradbury, or Fellini meets Willa Cather.
The cutesy scheming fathers are an archaic leftover from the play, and I'm not sure what to make of the "Theatrical Abduction!" tune which replaced the politically abhorrent "Rape" song. But Jean Louisa Kelly is a fetching Girl and Jonathon Morris a world-weary, bored-with-his-virility El Gallo, and between them they capture the romantic pessimism and tragic fatalism with which The Fantasticks told right are suffused. A lovely, lovely film.